Tuesday, December 30, 2014

There's Something About Prague

I may have mentioned before that you don't need to twist my arm to get me to the Czech Republic.

Trust me when I say it was a no brainer decision to spend our Christmas in Prague.

Yes, we live in Vienna and it is a beautiful city.  In comparison, Prague's beauty glows.  This particular place draws you in and wraps you in a warm hug with a big smile.  Then it serves up a large hunk of street ham, with a side of potatoes and cabbage, washed down with hot red wine, topped off with this addicting warm, rolled, cinnamon sugar pastry named Trdelnik.  Then you get another hug and a smile.  Leaving is never easy.

So we celebrated Christmas Day with the throngs of joyful visitors from around the world at the Market in the Old Square.  The Nutcracker at Prague's National Theater was enchanting from the nose bleed cheap seats.  Our holiday celebrations have officially become traditional in their non-tradition.  Should you decide to skip your Christmas tradition and embrace the non-traditional, go to Prague.  The city waits with its warm hug.  We will be there too.

Bless Us, Every One.  May Your New Year be Filled with an Abundance of Joyful Moments.
The Family Johnson

Saturday, December 13, 2014

We Are The World

I'm a member of the United Nations Women's Guild (UNWG) of Vienna.  In January 2014, I volunteered to be the Manager of the UNWG Kiosk.  The Kiosk is a small shop located at the Vienna International Center where we sell a variety of items sourced and donated from around the world, along with Austria souvenirs, T-Shirts and handmade jewelry created by our volunteer staff.

The money from the sales go directly into the UNWG Charity Fund.  In addition, proceeds from other fundraising activities, like the UNWG International Bazaar, are distributed annually to charity projects supporting women and children around the world.  

In 2014, the UNWG Vienna allocated 237,778 euros (about 300k dollars) for 37 projects in 28 countries.

When I was little, this was one of my favorite toys:

If You See in a Thrift Shop, Buy for Me!  The Tom Thumb Pink Cash Register.  Beloved by this Child of the 1960s.

Now you know why I've loved working at the Kiosk and also why a career in sales was a great way to spend more than 15 years of my professional life!

The UNWG Kiosk enjoyed a very successful 2014, so proud of our team, appreciative of the guidance from our more experienced volunteers and confident we will continue to grow in 2015.  In addition, I was just elected to serve on the UNWG Board of Directors.  In this regard, I am my Father's Daughter.  Find a group you like, then work from within to bring continued success through service, process improvement and innovation.  Looking forward to the opportunities ahead.

UNWG Kiosk Bazaar Stall 2014

UNWG Kiosk Bazaar 2014

During the last weekend in November, I had my first experience at the UNWG International Bazaar.  The World was there, literally.  Stalls stocked with items for sale, representations from each participating country.  Food and drink from all points across the globe.  Entertainment and music filled The Austria Center.  Just in case you decide to visit, Bazaar weekend is incredibly fun.  Shopping, eating, drinking (did I mention the Cubans were making mojitos and the UK had a whiskey bar?) all in a single stop.  A joyful event, outside of Disney and the Olympics, when it's really a small world after all.

The Treasures of Egypt

Saudi Style

The World is Here!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Because The Night

It's Christmas Market time again!  We've made our rounds and consensus is the Medieval Market at the Arsenal remains a favorite.  We wish it lasted longer than one weekend, but feel thankful we braved the rain to make it out this evening.  We walked through Belvedere, to get a glimpse of how the "palace people" were celebrating, before heading to the Arsenal.......where they have fire, cauldrons, swords and troubadours.  Our kind of folk.

Belvedere Christmas Market

A View to the Belvedere Market

Arsenal Medieval Market

Cauldrons of Good Stuff

Troubadours? Minstrels?  They were Rocking!

My Name is Inigo Montoya......

Making Shoes, the Old Fashioned Way

Oh Little Star of Arsenal.....

Fish Over Fire

Because the night belongs to us.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Budapest or Bust

Fall break!  A week long adventure with an elementary student who woke up everyday with the same question,

"What are we doing today?"

Answer: "Oh, X and Y."

Elementary student response, "Then what?"

This year, we took a short road trip to Budapest, Hungary.  It feels funny to write that and even funnier to drive it, considering it takes about as long to travel from Tucson to Phoenix.  It is only 2.5 hours between these major European capitals formerly divided by the Iron Curtain and linked together by a tragic and tumultuous history.  We happened to be in town on the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.  Initially a student led repudiation of Soviet actions taking place in Poland, it became a violent reassertion of the Soviet grasp on Hungary.  The Revolution, though a failure at the time, was a harbinger of the future and is now recognized as a National Holiday.  Interestingly, the police had areas where crowds could gather locked down.

Internet Image-October 1956

October 2014

Like most tourists visiting a city for the first time, we get the lay of the land by taking a BigBus Tour.  This type of touring may not appeal to everyone.  I find it a great idea when exploring with an extremely curious 10 year old.  You know, the kind who asks questions like, "How did the Hapsburgs join together with Hungary?" and "Why did the Austro-Hungarian Empire break up?"

Answer: "Put on your headphones and listen to the tour guide!"

Gulp.  I really hate disappointing Mrs. Frieda Hollihan, the greatest European History teacher ever to grace the halls Pennsbury High School.  Thirty plus years later, I can say that and really, truly, mean it.

And so we roamed, in the rain in an open top BigBus wearing white BigBus trash bags to keep our headphones dry enough so we could learn about Budapest.

Royal Palace

At Night
Chain Bridge to Castle District and Matthias Church

At Night


At Night

My favorite part of the trip was our visit to the Central Market Hall.  It is a tourist zone that truly retains its local color.  Downstairs, the shopping for produce, fresh meat, fish and spices still attracts residents marketing on a Saturday morning.  Upstairs, tourists can shop for "local" souvenirs just in from China, as well as from family run craft shops.  Everyone can dip into the food stalls stocked full of local flavors.

We even met an American retiree, now living in Hungary, who invited us to her home on our next visit.  We enjoyed her much more than the extremely loud river cruise Americans who were swapping European travel tips (gleaned from a fellow country club member, whose name I will not reveal) across the hotel restaurant for all to hear.

Central Market Hall

There are so many more questions about Budapest yet to be answered.  We will return.  Rain or shine.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Seasons Change

Always loved the change of season, Fall is my favorite.

Austria is just gorgeous, the colors and weather combine for some lovely days.  I've changed seasons, literally, having just celebrated a milestone birthday.  I hope to weather this change as elegantly as the entrance of Autumn.  We celebrated in Salzburg, one of my favorite places.  While we are speaking of favorite things, The Sound of Music will celebrate the same milestone birthday in 2015.

If you've visited Salzburg once, you'll want to return again and again.  We highly recommend the Hotel Sacher Salzburg, a dip into luxury you will not forget.  The last time we stayed at this hotel, it was September 11, 2001.  We could not have asked for kinder or more generous hosts during a tragic time for Americans at home and a time of confusion and shock for those of us stranded abroad.

Hotel Sacher Salzburg

Lounging Made Easy

Our Suite

A Room with a View
What to do in Salzburg?  Well, wandering the pedestrian streets of the Old Town is high on my list.  There are shops, restaurants and an outdoor market on weekends, we especially enjoyed having an evening glass of wine standing outside a bottle shop.  With this view, it is really a no brainer.

And although we are seasoned Salzburg tourists (yes, we've been on The Sound of Music Tour and to Mozart's birthplace and boyhood home), we decided to purchase the Salzburg Card and made our way through the majority of the venues while enjoying all of the "savings".  The tour of the Stiegl Brewery is fantastic, a museum, beer tasting and free gift (yes, a bottle of beer each) makes the trek out on public transportation worth the trip.

We Closed Out Oktoberfest 

No doubt we will return for the Christmas Markets, the Westbahn train (www.westbahn.at) takes a little over 2 hours to get there, making a day trip a possibility for anyone visiting Vienna.

The wonderful part of this adventure was my dear husband, who planned our getaway.  Thank you from the bottom of my half century heart.